Not so long ago, I stayed in a hotel that had automatic fragrance dispensers in the rooms – on entering, I was greeted by a cloud of perfume so strong it nearly knocked me out. The window didn’t open so I had no choice but to crank up the air conditioning, unplug the offending pump and leave it in the corridor. That night, the bedside tablet refused to turn off, its screen keeping me awake with its ghostly glow.
Unfortunately, many hotels get tech wrong. I am reasonably competent at turning on TVs, but there have been many times when I have had to request maintenance to come and help me connect it to my laptop via a media hub, or sync it to the DVD player. I’ve struggled to find out what number to dial to reach reception, how to log on to the WiFi or to turn out all the lights. These seemingly simple tasks can become incredibly frustrating and fire up a terrible rage against everything electronic.
By this summer, all 4,748 rooms and suites at the Wynn Las Vegas will have an Amazon Echo speaker, allowing you not only to play music but to control the air conditioning, lights, curtains and TV with voice commands interpreted by Alexa, Amazon’s built-in personal assistant. It sounds great, but I fear I would be the person who ended up screaming at it to close the curtains because it didn’t understand my accent.
Hilton has designed an app for your phone that can be used to check in and open your room door, while the Four Seasons Toronto has in-room iPads allowing you to order a burger and fries at midnight without having to speak to anyone. Lucy is the Virgin Hotel in Chicago app – tap the screen to request extra pillows, laundry pick-ups, meals or turndown service. At the Zetta in San Francisco, a new wellness program utilizes brain-sensing Muse headbands for guided meditation.
Here’s a selection of hotels and brands that are leading the way when it comes to technology. They are not scientifically ranked and we don’t guarantee that you won’t lose your cool when trying to engage with them, but the digitization of real-world environments isn’t going away so you may as well embrace it. According to the Institute for Global Futures, by 2060 we will all have access to DNA mobile payments, 3D printers and beds that have the ability to pre-program our very dreams…
1. HILTON MCLEAN TYSONS CORNER, VIRGINIA
Hilton’s innovation lab has earned a place in the limelight for its cute-looking robot concierge, Connie. Powered by artificial intelligence from IBM Watson, she can provide restaurant tips in multiple languages and answer questions about hotel amenities. But the McLean has much more going on than that.
Instead of having to call the front desk for toothpaste, you can send a text with Kipsu. Outside the Pantry is “RealSense by Intel,” an eight-screen installation that responds to human gestures. By the Tech Lounge you’ll find Amazon Lockers for deliveries. Ava by Irobot is the hotel’s mobile telepresence droid, which will act as your eyes and ears if you can’t attend an on-site conference.
At selected hotels, including the McLean, the Honors app acts as a digital key allowing you to choose your room in advance via a floor plan, check in remotely and unlock your room once you get within five feet of the door.
Described as Starwood’s (now Marriott International’s) “tech forward incubator brand,” Aloft has introduced robotic butlers in its Cupertino and Silicon Valley hotels. The “Botlrs” work around the clock to deliver guests towels, newspapers, toiletries and bottles of water. They only accept tweets as tips and can pose for selfies.
At Aloft Santa Clara and Boston Seaport, meanwhile, the world’s first voice-activated hotel rooms have been unveiled. By speaking into an iPad, travelers can turn lights on and off with a simple “Good morning” or “Good night,” play music and fine-tune the air conditioning. Emoji room service arrived last year at select hotels – text the water droplet, pill and banana emojis to receive two bottles of Vitamin Water, some Advil and two bananas ($10). And at most Aloft hotels (as well as W and Element), Starwood Preferred Guest members can use the SPG Keyless app to open their bedroom doors with their phone.
3. M BETA AT CHARLOTTE MARRIOTT CITY CENTER
Described as a “travel innovation lab in live beta,” this 1980s hotel was transformed by Marriott last autumn, and now exists as an interactive showroom for testing innovations that could then be rolled out across other properties. Guests can give feedback by pushing Beta Buttons dotted around the property, with real-time approval rankings displayed publicly on digital boards.
At select hotels, not only can you check in and open your door with Marriott’s app but use Mobile Requests to order a toothbrush, champagne or flowers. marriott.com
4. 1 HOTELS
1 Hotels is an innovative new brand that combines state-of-the art technology with sustainability (rooms have bins for unwanted clothes, hemp-blend mattresses and refillable bottles of shower gel), as well as nature-inspired biophilic interiors (living walls, air plants, terrariums and raw timber furniture). Even the reusable electronic key fobs are made of wood.
Not only is there free electric car charging, but access to a Tesla for free journeys within a 15-block radius. Gyms have self-powered Peloton Cycles and there are bikes (and recyclable helmets) to borrow instead of taking a taxi. These are available across all three hotels – one in Miami and two in New York. Upcoming openings will be in Sanya, China (2018), Cabo and Sunnyvale in California (2019). 1hotels.com
Capsule chain Yotel certainly has hotels that look sci-fi. But its tech is pretty space-age, too. In its flagship New York property, a huge robotic arm lifts suitcases into storage units, while guests use glowing airport-style kiosks to check in.
Signature features include space-saving adjustable SmartBeds that fold 90 degrees to create a couch, Smart TVs and USB/UK/EU/US plug sockets. The 80-room next-generation YotelAir hotel at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport has a co-working space with tables fitted with USB charging points and the ability to print wirelessly for free wherever you are. yotel.com
6. PENINSULA CHICAGO
This luxurious outpost of the Hong Kong-based brand has implemented a number of innovations developed by the company’s dedicated R&D team. This means all tech found in Peninsula properties is custom-made and rigorously tested.
Along with its Beijing property, the Peninsula Chicago has the most up-to-date gadgetry, including bespoke digital tablets (bedside, desk and wall-mounted) for controlling all in-room functions (lighting, temperature, privacy, valet call and curtains), as well as displaying city guides and restaurant menus, in multiple languages. Flatscreen Blu-ray LED TVs have free HD movies, memory card readers and virtual surround-sound. The hotel’s Rolls-Royce and Mini fleets are equipped with free WiFi. chicago.peninsula.com
7. MAMA SHELTER LOS ANGELES
Part of Accorhotels, funky French brand Mama Shelter has installed Apple iMac computers in all of its 600-plus hotel rooms. There are six hotels in the group – the one in LA is a good example of how high-tech they are. The sleek 27-inch desktop Macs are installed with information about hotel amenities and free movies. You can also access TV, radio and Airplay. Reception will lend you a keyboard to type with. Take pictures with the webcam and (with your permission) they will be displayed on screens in the public areas. mamashelter.com
By Jenny Southan